After being voted Pick of the Fringe, And Bella Sang With Us – Sally Stubbs' buddy-cop tale of Canada's first policewomen – is hitting the Firehall Arts Centre January 4th-14th. I'll be happy to regreet Constables Miller and Harris, and an ace team led by director Sarah Rodgers. Some of our wonderful company has had to answer the call of previous commitments... so welcome aboard, Beatrice Zeilinger, Agnes Tong, Patrick Courtin, and SM Breanne Harmon!
A Christian school in Alberta recently contacted me to ask if they could cut certain words from their upcoming production of my play Schoolhouse, "simply to adhere to what our community prefers." I was pretty startled by this, as this play has been done in some of the most conservative communities in Canada without incident. Furthermore – although I've fought hard my whole life to reach out to those who think differently than I do – at the time when they wrote to me, the campaign (and eventual victory) of Donald Trump had made me viscerally alarmed for the future of social justice and artistic liberty in my own society. And, perhaps unfairly, I was mentally equating the kinds of people who would complain about the word "bastards" in a play set in rural 1938, with Trump supporters. In other words – to put it mildly – I was NOT in the mood.
On the other hand, this is exactly the kind of community where I most want the story of Schoolhouse to be told. And they were ethical enough to come to me rather than just trying to make their changes in secret. Moreover, when asking if they could substitute "buggers" for "bastards", they also said: "We are absolutely open to other alternatives if there are some." (At which I thought: my preferred "alternative" is for you to just do the darn play.) So, I gave them a choice. They could either bowdlerize the offending language, or else post a language warning, as well as the following letter. I strongly urged them toward the latter.
Hello, and welcome to Schoolhouse! I'm the playwright. From about 2002-2004, I read books, diaries, and archives, and interviewed the people of Cavan County about their experiences as students and teachers in one-room schools. This play is very closely based on those real people and their stories. The first production was, I'm honoured to say, a huge success. Since its premiere in 2006, Schoolhouse has been performed hundreds of times and seen by upwards of 25,000 people in schools, colleges, and theatres across Canada and the USA.
I have been told that some folks in your community will be bothered about the (few, isolated) uses of "h__l" and "b____d" in this play. I was kind of surprised by this, as there have never been any objections to the language in this play (including from several Christian academies): so rather than changing it, I thought I'd talk to you about why it is there.
1) Authenticity. Perhaps the primary goal of most playwrights (other than not boring you) is to tell the truth, as best we know how. In my play, one character at a Christmas concert uses the H-word at an especially unfortunate time. Like most of the episodes of my play, that actually happened. The fact that the man's language and behaviour were completely inappropriate is exactly why this incident stuck with witnesses fifty years later! If I softened his language, it would not only be dishonest, but it would also destroy the point of this scene... which is about how other grown-ups deal with an adult who is behaving boorishly around children. The few rough words of the few rough characters are not there for shock value: rather, they very much reflect their personalities, their situation, and their rural community in 1938.
2) Values. The central theme of Schoolhouse is about values. How do we transmit values to our children? How much does the school shape the community, and how much does the community shape the school? Audiences across this country have seen themselves in this narrative. They have heard, in Ewart's most objectionable words, the language of his suffering. They have watched Evie moving from disdain for a rural community to an almost painful level of empathy. These characters' stories invite our compassion... and challenge our moral priorities.
3) Cultural context. The words "h_ll" and "b____d" are mainstream in modern Canadian life, including in the kinds of texts that are studied in high school, from literature to current events. They are found dozens of times in the King James Bible. Shakespeare uses the word "h_ll" 160 times, and "b____d" 109. These words occur on a daily basis on the radio, in the most conservative newspapers, on the Internet, on primetime TV: they barely rate PG-13 in a movie theatre. However, if you are bothered by their use in a school context, please see under (4), Teachable Moments.
4) Teachable Moments. This play has been embraced by conservative as well as progressive, religious as well as secular communities, because it treats their values, and its characters, with respect. That being said, you don't necessarily have to like or accept everything that happens onstage, whether it's child-murder in Macbeth, or farm-boys swearing... and now you will have an opportunity to talk with your children about why. Just because someone says something onstage – whether it's Evie or Ewart or President Trump – it doesn't mean it's okay to say it in your home.
Over and over again, studies have shown that the arts are good for young people: they teach self-esteem, discipline, teamwork, creative problem-solving. Theatre in particular strengthens our abilities for quick thinking and resourcefulness, for courage, for understanding. In order for young people to engage with the arts, and with living writers, it is important for them to discover that you can have empathy and even love for characters who act in ways of which you do not approve. I also believe – and here we may disagree – that it's important for young people to address the ideas of artistic freedom and artistic truth; and to encounter the idea that you can engage with, and learn from, a writer's vision of the world, even if you don't share it.
I do hope that this addresses some of your concerns. I take note that your school's web site upholds the common values of Equity, Accountability, Collaboration, and Integrity... and I can assure you that those are my values, too. Speaking of accountability: I take full and personal responsibility for every word you hear onstage tonight, so if you are still angry about what you hear, please contact me through my web site at www.leannabrodie.com . That's the price of my freedom of speech... which has never felt more precious than it feels in these times.
Thank you so much... and now, I hope you enjoy the show!
Just had one very exciting day on Isaac Ezban's upcoming thriller Parallel. You can tell a lot about people by how they treat the bit players on a shoot: film sets can be the most hierarchical and unpleasant places this side of hazing week at Queen's Engineering. This, on the other hand, was hands down the nicest crew I have ever worked with, from the transport guy to the DOP to the gun wrangler. As usual, that kind of attitude starts at the top: the warm and lovely Isaac greeted me with a sweet little air-kiss, and led a round of applause when I wrapped. The American star I worked with – I'm not sure if she's meant to be a surprise, so I won't mention her yet by name – was also gracious and lovely, and it was a treat to work so closely with someone of her caliber. Everything from costumes to FX was handled with so much meticulousness, creativity, and pride... I think we're in for a real treat in 2017!
The Stage West Pechet Family Comedy Award is Canada's most prestigious recognition for a new comic script, so Rébecca Déraspe and I were delighted that You Are Happy was among three national finalists. Since we weren't able to travel to Ontario for the ceremony, we wrote the following acceptance speech, and asked the organizers – the folks at the Playwrights Guild of Canada – to deliver it for us if we won. The prize went to Kristen Da Silva, but I thought you might get a kick out of reading our little scene anyway. Congratulations to Kristen and to all Tom Hendry Awards finalists and winners.
READER 1: Je suis une actrice très gentille et talentueuse qui va lire le texte d’une auteure réfugiée dans son appartement montréalais. Alors par ma propre bouche, je vais me dire merci de la part de l’auteure : merci.
READER 2: Leanna says, Hi, everyone. Wish I could be there. I did this quick-and-dirty English translation of Rébecca's speech, and my very nice friend is reading it. So here we go.
READER 1: L’histoire commence en septembre 2012 au cœur du festival Dramaturgies en dialogue à la sortie de la lecture de ma pièce.
READER 2: "Translation is hard."
READER 1: Les joues rouges, galvanisée par les applaudissements, je regarde une magnifique dame au grand sourire s’approcher de moi.
READER 2: "When I first met Leanna, I was blown away by her beauty and intelligence."
READER 1: Avec son accent légèrement anglophone –
READER 2: "Her French is perfect."
READER 1: – elle me dit qu’elle a beaucoup aimé mon travail, mon humour et elle me tend sa carte d’affaire : elle veut lire d’autres de mes pièces.
READER 2: "Leanna is famous throughout Québec.... she's like the Céline Dion of translation. I begged her to translate my work. BEGGED her."
READER 1: Quelques jours plus tard, en tombant sur son adresse courriel juste avant de faire le lavage, je me suis rappelé de notre rencontre. Une chance que je n’ai pas lavé mon avenir.
READER 2: "I knew that working with her would change my life."
READER 1: Leanna Brodie a fait beaucoup pour moi.
READER 2: "And it did!"
READER 1: Elle a traduit Deux ans de votre vie [You Are Happy] avec un talent et une rigueur remarquable.
READER 2: "Her translation improves on my original in every possible way."
READER 1: Elle m’a fait découvrir Vancouver avec un enthousiasme qui me fait vouloir y retourner le plus souvent possible.
READER 2: "Translating humour is hard. You must honour the voice of the original writer while also respecting the comic rhythms of the new language. So it's nice to see comedy in translation getting some love."
READER 1: C’est elle qui a fait en sorte que mon travail soit connu de l’autre côté des frontières québécoises.
READER 2: " I hereby agree to give her all of the prize money. And a 50-50 split on royalties."
READER 1: C’est grâce à elle tout ça.
READER 2: Wait... Rébecca's giving me all the credit?
READER 1: Leanna Brodie, merci. Merci du fond du cœur.
READER 2: I might need to revise this translation.
READER 1: T’as vu, j’ai même pas fait de blague. Je suis une personne extrêmement sérieuse.
READER 2: Rebecca says, thanks very much for this great honour, and we're a good team. I think her writing is elegant and hilarious, with a rare combo of empathy and biting wit. (beat) But I'm still keeping the prize money.
You Are Happy, a fresh and sparkling three-hander which won the Prix BMO when it was produced by Les Biches Pensives at Montréal's Théâtre d'Aujourd'hui, is published by Playwrights Canada Press. It still awaits its English-language premiere.
Boca del Lupo is a much-admired Vancouver indie company that has, as my husband puts it, a real "can-do spirit". So I was delighted when Sherry Yoon asked me to contribute to Red Phone – Boca's new site-specific project about urgent conversations – though I didn't quite understand how it was all going to work. Now that I've been through the actual installation, I can fully appreciate her innovative concept and the way Sherry, Carey, and Jay have put it together. And I think it's absolutely great that they're working with playwrights to bring some sharp, focused content to this innovative form (at least, that was true of Marcus Youssef's segment when Boca mounted a first version last year. They've since developed the piece at the Banff Centre, and I look forward to work from Hiro Kanagawa and Shawn Macdonald this time around.)
If I sound a bit mysterious about what exactly is involved, it's because the element of surprise is part of the appeal. All I can say is, it's a singular experience, and it works.
The price is right ($5 some days, by donation on others, details and tickets here) and the performance is only 10 minutes long, so I hope you can get there. You might want to reserve, as spaces are very, very, VERY limited. It'll give you something to think about as you're strolling around Granville Island. And I'm tickled that we're part of the Vancouver Writers Fest: I hope to check out their other events, too, including a couple with my old schoolmate Soraya Peerbaye...
Having immensely enjoyed our partnership at Tapestry Opera's unique breeding ground for new opera, the Composer-Librettist Laboratory (fondly known as the "Liblab"), composer Anthony Young and I were determined to work together again.
There were a few obstacles.
One: he's a busy composer and I'm a busy whatever the hell I am, and neither of us has the wherewithal to self-produce in this art form. I mean, Canadian opera singers – highly trained thoroughbreds that they are – don't even fall out of bed for less than a grand a week (as I discovered when producing Opera on the Rocks with a group of the most generous opera singers ever, a wonderful experience that was – for many reasons – completely unrepeatable).
Two: unless you are John Cage and Margaret frigging Atwood, virtually no one wants to take a chance on your opera.
Three: Anthony lives in New Zealand. I live in Canada.
Despite the odds, and thanks to the miracles of Dropbox and Skype, we collaborated on two new works in New Zealand, and developed Ulla's Odyssey – a new, full-length, family-friendly opera – through a delightful workshop production of a shortened version by Auckland's Opera Factory, and through the staunch support of Lynda Hill and Toronto's Theatre Direct. But then we hit a dead end. Nobody wanted to pull the trigger and programme our little show.
In order to create a new opera, you must find a company (in a classically-oriented art form) that is not afraid of new rep. You need to tantalize them with the appeal of your partnership and/or your specific project. Furthermore, it is imperative to approach them when you are at the exact right stage of development. Too early (unless you are an international star on whom people are willing to roll the dice) and they can't clearly see the potential of the piece; too late, and they feel artistically uninvolved because you have left them out of key creative decisions... no one in the arts likes to feel that they are simply there to cut you a cheque. You also need to consider the company's production cycle. We thought that an exciting opera for children would be a shoo-in, but the companies we approached either didn't truly value new work for young people, or had something else on the boards or in the pipeline that they were already committed to (and at the major companies, there is only ever one slot for child-friendly work). Meanwhile's the children's theatre companies didn't feel able or willing to tackle the form of opera.
So there we were in 2014, an experienced international composer-librettist team with a full-length score developed in Canada from an award-winning short opera produced in New Zealand... and no takers. But we'd come too far to let it drop. We scoured the Web for possibilities... and found the Flourish New Opera Competition.
We entered; we waited; and on Labour Day weekend, we heard from the organizers: Ulla's Odyssey has been selected for the finals of our competition. First prize means a full production by the renowned OperaUpClose. Please present a 12-minute selection from your score to our panel of senior artists from the opera community, at our public showing on September 21, in the King's Head Theatre Pub.
In London, England.
Anthony was in despair – "We can't afford to go over there! How do we pull off a 12-minute showcase on another continent in less than 3 weeks?" – but I said, wait a sec. You know lots of classical music people; I know lots of musical theatre folk. Let's see what we can do.
In short order, Anthony had assembled three Kiwis in London, including pianist Terence Penk who generously offered to rehearse the company at his flat. Musical theatre dynamos Barb Tomasic (Vancouver) and George Masswohl (Toronto) had helped me hunt down some other prospects. However, we were still missing our Goddess of the Sea. Then Lynda Hill told me about an online casting resource for opera in London. We thought no one of substance would bother with our crap little one-off gig, but decided to take a chance and pop a notice up anyway.
Seventeen seconds later, we had our first response. Then another one five seconds after that. Then... holy shit, the resumés kept rolling in, and they were extraordinary. It made Anthony and I want to write a whole other opera just so we could work with all these incredible artists. Grainne Gillis, whom we eventually cast, told us later: "It was a chance to sing for some very important people in the opera community, so it was a showcase for us, too. Also, a lot of us are hungry for this kind of new work. And you were offering to pay for it. You keep apologising for it not being a lot, but not everyone even makes the gesture."
That was the other thing. Anthony and I decided there was no way we could ask strangers to work for us for free, so we dug into our own pockets to give people at least a token payment for their extremely specialized services. This involved finding out about international transfers: fortunately Terence (whom Anthony knew a little, at least) agreed to be our paymaster to save on fees. It was, like everything else in this process, a running leap of faith, but Anthony and I decided: if we don't bet on ourselves, who else will?
In one week, we had four singers and a pianist, and it was time to rehearse. We could get everyone together for exactly two rehearsals. So, we gathered at Terence's home. Anthony served as musical director, and I directed the performances.... by Skype. (If you are ever tempted to repeat this experiment, you should know that there are now more reliable platforms for teleconferencing with multiple parties: but that was what we could figure out in the time we had.) Rehearsals went as well as one could hope: we had, incredibly, assembled a crack team, and they clearly got (and dug) the material. And so we sent them off, with a few coins in their pocket, to the King's Head Pub for the final adjudication. "Good luck! Tell us how it went!"
That weekend, I was at a little resort in the Okanagan region of BC with my husband. We were recuperating from a gruelling period of work, and we were supposed to be untethering from all electronics, but I had to make an exception for my cell phone: "I'm stage managing this workshop in London, darling..." And thank god, because I got a panicked text: "____ hasn't turned up yet, what do we do?" We figured it out. Then (given the eight-hour time difference) I went to bed. When I woke up, the photo at the head of this article had appeared on my cell phone, with a two-word text: "WE WON!"
I'm so proud of our beautiful production. I'm thrilled with the upcoming UK tour. But this photo, taken two years ago today, is officially now my favourite work photo of all time. Because it reminds me that the round-the-world journey of getting this opera produced was much like that of Ulla herself. Firstly it required someone at the tiller (or, in the case of Anthony and me, two someones) with a big idea, resourcefulness, a dollop of luck, and an ocean of dogged, pig-headed, mulish tenacity. Secondly, it needed many generous and unseen hands working together to float our boat.
Award-winning and successfully produced in both the UK and New Zealand, Ulla's Odyssey is still waiting for its North American début...
My summer acting gig, And Bella Sang With Us, has been chosen as a Pick of the Fringe by the Vancouver Fringe Festival. That means you get one more chance to see this exuberantly feminist cop caper about Canada's first policewomen patrolling Vancouver's Downtown East Side; and I get one more shot at steering through all the twists and turns of this slalom role with a kindred band of sisters (and one delightfully unpredictable brother.) Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 8:45 pm at a new venue: Performance Works on Granville Island. Tickets and information here.
You Are Happy – my translation of Rébecca Déraspe's sparkling hit comedy, Deux ans de votre vie, recently published by Playwrights Canada Press – has just been nominated for the prestigious Stage West Pechet Family Comedy Award. This national competition recognizes a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada who, in the opinion of the jury, has written the year's best unproduced comedy script.
I am delighted that the jury has recognized a play in translation, thus widening the door for the vibrant work by a new generation of francophone playwrights in Canada. I am thrilled that this exciting young woman – an award-winning writer of intelligent and original comedy whose work I deeply believe in – is now getting this kind of well-deserved recognition in our other official language. And I have renewed my determination to see this play produced in English (did I mention that it has not yet been produced?!)
Congratulations to our fellow nominees, Briana Brown and Kristen Da Silva, and to all the Tom Hendry nominees. And Rébecca, je me croise les doigts pour le 30 octobre!
In real life, fighting and making love are intimate acts: outside of whoever you're doing them with, no one else exists.
In the theatre, representing either violence or sexuality comes with a set of paradoxes.
During stage combat, your first duty is to your own safety and that of your fellow performers. Your second duty is to make it look like you're trying to hurt them.
Staging love/attraction/sexuality, meanwhile, turns one's most private moments into a PDA.
Actors love to live as fully as possible through their time on stage. In And Bella Sang With Us, I get to deduce, chase, argue, mime, sing, drink, kiss, make jokes, make a fool of myself and others, and perform heroic deeds. I'm a lover, a fighter, a friend, and (as The Wire would have it) "good police".
I knew I'd ease into the fighting slowly, able to bring the aggression only once I'm sure I know the choreography and that no one's going to lose an eye. (I'm lucky in that Sarah May Redmond and I just worked together on He Said It. In fight scenes as in love scenes, trust always helps.)
On the other hand, I was startled to hear from director Sarah Rodgers and her assistant Ian that whenever Simon Webb and I are playing ex-lovers O'Rourke and Harris, our volume drops to a nearly inaudible whisper. As Ian put it: "If this were a film and we had microphones, it would be very steamy!" Simon and I are both stage animals and, once into performance, I doubt we've ever gotten a volume note in our lives. However, this is rehearsal, and this is different. The overt sexual content of this play is pretty mild – it's essentially a buddy cop story set in 1912, after all – but Harris and O'Rourke have a pretty torrid history, even if only the tip of it is currently bobbing above the surface.
I do feel that, particularly when we play lovers with actors who are strangers, there needs to be a period (even one run-through, if the schedule is tight) where it is just for us. We need to create intimacy... because erotic and sexual material, in the context of the theatre, is not generally about exhibitionism. It's not actually a PDA. It's a very private moment... shared.
Not to worry, though, Rodge: now that Simon and I have got the hang of it, we'll bump it up a decibel or forty. Next I need to focus on improving my hand-to-hand... while wearing a long skirt. Good times.
And Bella Sang With Us plays at the Cultch Sept. 9-17. Tickets and more information here.
My comments about intimacy and privacy are obviously not universally applicable: when it comes to the Kardashian family, for example, all bets are off. However, most reality TV stars haven't seen fit to turn their talents to the stage. Yet.
Gearing up to rehearse And Bella Sang With Us for the Vancouver Fringe in September. This fast-paced historical adventure passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours and with Sarahs to spare: we initially had *four* of them in our rehearsal room, which made it feel like some sort of Presbyterian convent (or the world's most goyishe mikvah). In the interests of sanity, they have been renamed Sarah May (Redmond), Sarah Louise (Turner), Sarah Roa (her full name), and Rodge (Sarah Rodgers), for the duration. Sally Stubbs is around as producer and playwright, and stage manager Patricia Jiang is on hand to keep all that estrogen on the straight(ish) and narrow.
Our resident menfolk include assistant director Ian Harmon and ASM Kenta Nezu. Versatile SImon Webb rounds out the cast, playing all mankind. Simon should compare notes with dear Rob Fortin, who played The Men when we did the equally female-centric For Home and Country at the 4th Line Theatre. Or possibly with Chris Hemsworth from Ghostbusters... though at least our action-packed tale is unlikely to retroactively ruin the childhoods of any whiny American boy-men.
I recently heard from Dominic Haddock – at London's unfailingly innovative, Olivier Award-winning OperaUpClose – that they have just received the largest grant in the company's history, to bring Ulla's Odyssey (composed by Anthony Young, my creative partner and friend) to children across the UK. From their most recent newsletter:
"This month we've been working on our Arts Council funded creative learning programme building workshops that will tour with Ulla's Odyssey and introduce 7 to 11 year old children to opera. The cast has been working with theatre in education company, Big Wheel, to design and deliver these workshops which we will take around the country in the Autumn and Spring 2017, engaging almost 4000 children."
I just now discovered this blog entry from our imaginative and gifted director, Valentina Ceschi, about the training the cast and crew have been doing to be able to roll out this educational programme. It's a fascinating peek into Big Wheel's approach to engaging children with the performing arts in a way that empowers them and harnesses their own imaginations. The idea that thousands of young people (especially those outside of London) will have a chance to discover the joy of opera and live performance through this show, is quite thrilling to me. And on reading Valentina's words, I feel a rush of affection for all my collaborators on this adventure... and great gratitude for the Canada Council travel grant that allowed me to join Anthony and Valentina and the cast and crew last fall, in a tiny magical rehearsal space under a railway bridge in Brixton. From now on, Archway 468 will always be my Platform 9 3/4.
We had our first read-through yesterday for And Bella Sang With Us at Sarah Rodgers' home. I haven't done a Fringe for a decade... but working with Sarah, one of Vancouver's most in-demand directors, on re-imagining a Sally Stubbs play that explores the fraught and forgotten history of Canada's first policewomen? How could I resist?
Maybe things are different here in Vancouver, but in my experience, it's not a typical first reading of a Fringe show when you have senior professionals – Barbara Clayden, Brian Ball – giving design presentations. First readings are always heady times, though, aren't they: full of possibility and enthusiasm; long before the realities of deadlines and budgets and our own limitations set in. And that's especially true when everyone there is doing it for love.
The cast crackles through the first read: I look forward to being in the room together. And I am very excited about fighting again. It's been years since I got to do some quality stage violence, and fight director Derek Metz is going to work with me to help blow the rust off. I've always learned choreography very very slowly, and I'm not able to really go after another actor until I'm pretty sure that (a) I know what I'm doing and therefore (b) they won't get hurt. Then, and only then, am I able to make it look like I want to kill them. Just another of the paradoxes of the theatre.
"Tadoussac, from the Innu word meaning "bosom" (refers to the capes on either side of the mouth of the Saguenay River, where the whales come to feed)"
Ah, Tadoussac: the place that nurtures both translators and whales.
When I first came to the Glassco Translation Residency, I'd already had over a decade of experience as an actor and playwright, with a sideline as a commercial translator that helped keep my fridge full and my French alive. When I left, I had the draft of my very first play translation, Philippe Soldevila's Tales of the Moon... and much had changed.
Within those ten days, I had been mentored by Linda Gaboriau, the preeminent translator of Québecois drama into English – an elegant and scintillating figure, in person as in prose. I'd shared good Charlevoix cheese, cultural insights, and theatrical war stories with some of the most exciting playwrights and translators in the flourishing theatre scene of Québec, as well as the translator and director Shahin Sayadi from Halifax, and the playwright Greg MacArthur from... pretty much everywhere. Moreover, I'd had a crash course in the thorny/ubiquitous politics of language in Québec... not merely as a topic of intellectual interest, but up close and personal. Everything about me – not only my aptitude and motivation for doing the work, but even the very way I speak the French language (halting-to-fluent mid-Atlantic diction, peppered with jarringly Québecois expressions) – was analysed and challenged. It was hard and it was bruising at times, but it left me with much greater skill, increased self-awareness, and renewed determination. Linda, thank heaven, steered me through it all.
Now, ten years later, I was finally going back, to work with Olivier Sylvestre as I translated his first play, La Beauté du monde, for Pi Theatre. Of course, things were very different this time. Linda had left the leadership of the residency in the capable hands of her protégé and friend Bobby Theodore; there was a whole new group of artists; and the languages being worked in included Cantonese, Spanish, and N’lakap’mux as well as English and French. Meanwhile our societies have (d)evolved in many ways, and our theatrical cultures along with them. Furthermore, I'm different. I'm a mid-career theatre artist now, and a translator with over a dozen plays to my credit: five of them have been produced to date, and three published. I'm no star, but I have a process, and a track record, and fewer and fewer fucks to give about what anyone thinks of my French.
What hasn't altered, is Tadoussac. Not really. It was spring instead of fall this time, so the spectacular sunsets were later every night: but the whales, the rocks, the pretty painted village on a bed of wild... the lovely and spacious old ten-bedroom cabin crammed with folk art, solid wooden furnishings, Bill Glassco's Tarragon Theatre memorabilia, and first-rate books... all were as I had left them. Like the apartment building in La Beauté du monde, the Glassco family's summer home is a character in itself... but instead of the carnivorous beast of Olivier's oneiric and haunting play, she is a gracious and welcoming small-town aunt who offers you seconds of everything.
Just as before, ten days of hard work, laughter, cultural exchange, and linguistic insights were enjoyed by all, with evenings full of good food (merci, Andrée) and good wine. It's still the way you always imagined university would be: the perfect cocktail of solitude and togetherness, communal life and the life of the mind, garnished with long, companionable walks. The sort of environment where Olivier could peaceably translate Jordan Tannahill on one end of the comfy old sofa while I was translating Olivier on the other... and we could help each other when we got stuck. Where my husband and I could both take part, thrilled to be sharing this special place, but spending most of the day delving deep into our separate projects with our separate creative partners. Where Charles could whirl Bea into an impromptu ballroom dance, while good-naturedly arguing about who was going to lead. Several of us opined that we could easily live this way for ages... except that we would miss our loved ones, actual theatre, and Asian food.
Actually, the biggest shift I noticed in the residency itself was generational. Bobby is a much more senior translator than I am, but age-wise he is more or less a peer... as were most of us this year (sparkling Alexis, profound Pascal), except for those (Olivier, Charles, rising talent Derek Chan) who were younger. On my way home, I had a wee drink in Montréal with the brilliant translator and filmmaker Shelley Tepperman, who since that first residency has become a dear friend. She said that, much as she hoped to go back to Tadoussac and felt that Bobby was a great choice to lead, she would miss Linda's stories; the breadth of her experience; her ability to draw on a lifetime of important work with the great figures of our time in order to guide the rest of us and put everything into perspective.
"Yeah," I said. "But I'm realising that, sooner or later, we're going to have to start doing that, too. Passing on whatever we know to the next generation... including Linda's stories. I mean, that's what we do, as translators, right? We transmit what we love, to the best of our ability, to the people we hope will care about it?"
"Huh," said Shelley.
"I know," I replied. "Me, too."
The annual Glassco Translation Residency in Tadoussac, Québec is Canada's only artist residency focused solely on the translation of plays. My thanks to Playwrights Workshop Montreal, Pi Theatre, and Richard Wolfe for this priceless opportunity... and to Briony Glassco and the Glassco family for opening their incredible home every year. You can read more about my translations here.
Last month I worked in all three of my major disciplines in the theatre: as an actor, playwright, and translator. This is what my June looked like, more or less:
June 3: Launched this web site, designed by incredible in-law Desirée Sy.
June 4-5: Acted in He Said It and White Wines at the Cultch. (Vancouver, BC)
June 9: Flown to Toronto by Playwrights Canada Press, the largest publisher of Canadian drama (whose board of directors I joined this year) to attend their AGM. All the board members are playwrights. (Toronto, ON)
June 13-23: Glassco Translation Residency to work with Olivier Sylvestre on La Beauté du Monde for Pi Theatre. I wrote more about this extraordinary residency here. (Tadoussac, PQ)
June 26-30: After essentially trying to speed-date the entire Toronto theatrical community in four days... finally flew home.
This was the craziest little gig. One week of work on He Said It (written in 1915), part of a double bill of Gertrude Stein plays, along with White Wines. Typical of influential women artists, Stein is someone we often hear about, but seldom hear from. Stein scholar Adam Frank of UBC started with a question: do her plays work? So Adam produced a series of recordings (I did He Said It with Lucia Frangione and composer/musician Dave Chokroun), which he found encouraging enough to gamble on putting a couple of pieces onstage.
Here's what it felt like to spend a week inside the brain of Gertrude Stein: fascinating, frustrating, liberating, flibbertigibbet, a cow. In Adam Frank's arrangement of the text, Sarah May and I loosely took on the roles of Gertrude and her life partner Alice B. Toklas, with Dave as a sort of Narrator/Looming Male Presence. Jimmy Tait – a beloved mainstay of Vancouver theatre, whom I had heard much about but never met – encouraged us to make bold and definite choices about what was going on in the moment, without worrying too much about the whole. So there were little status games and competitions; flirtations and rejections; fears about the outside world, and desperate searches for comfort in the domestic. And there was jazz.
"I was very pleased with embroidery very very pleased with embroidery."
I enjoyed my collaborators immensely. I also learned a great deal from the other company, and from the audience.
White Wines was set to music by Dorothy Chang and tackled by four singers as a blend of choral spoken word and avant-garde opera. Watching them for the first time on opening day, Sarah May and I were reminded of how much of Stein is sonority and swing, and how far you can go by digging into the poetry with precision and verve. The women of White Wines told us that they learned from watching our piece because it sounded like actual conversation – or fragments of many conversations – and we brought a real emotional, psychological dimension to it. I thought Adam could retitle his evening in the style of a dish at a fancy restaurant: "Stein, Two Ways."
The audience for this staged reading – who were these people? The house was packed, and not with a theatre crowd – was vastly different on each of the evenings. Our opening night spectators were giddy and ready to laugh at anything, so the show played as a sophisticated little divertissement. The next night was full of serious people: luckily for us, they felt attentive rather than cold. On instinct, instead of trying to beat the laughs out of them, we just kept plugging into each other: the whole tone of the show became more introspective, vulnerable, and sad (Jimmy and Adam said they much preferred that version). I'm not sure how much of the shift was our doing (second night, settling in) and how much of it was theirs: but the post-show cocktail reception was just as enthusiastic both nights, and these were not theatre people who try to buck you up after opening. As Jimmy said in rehearsal: perform strong clear actions, and people will project onto it whatever they need to. And it's all good.
I do a lot of things that may seem very different, but I see them all as just part of making a performance in collaboration with other people... usually, although not necessarily, in a theatre. Everything else I'm involved in – publishing books and articles, speaking to students, filing my taxes roughly on time – tends to be related to that.
When I was a child in Bewdley, Ontario (pop. 500), the school library was two small bookshelves in the hallway of my two-room school. So, at the age of twelve, I was thrilled to go to a library in a nearby town which had its own building, with two whole floors! On my very first visit, however, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed upstairs, to the adult library. Instead, I was to be limited to the children's section: to the kinds of books I felt I'd outgrown along with bedtime stories and perma-scabbed knees. I was so incensed at this insult to my intelligence that I marched right out the door and haven't gone near the place since.
I've come back to loving the stories we share with children, including some of the projects in these pages. Three of my plays were created in while I was Artist-in-Residence with the Blyth Festival or the 4th Line Theatre. Many audiences who have connected deeply with the above material might not share my enthusiasm for My Mother Dog. Some patrons of the theatres I have worked with in fairly conservative rural communities might be as shocked by The Vic as my more urbane friends would be nonplussed by the play with the talking quilt. As you'll see, I'm drawn to a wide spectrum of work, from TYA to NSFW. The production photos should give you a sense of which areas of the site you would like to explore. But it's all me, it's all here, and you are welcome to all of it.
April 28-May 7, 2016: I adjudicated the impressive, even thrilling crop of plays produced over the last season by the students at the the Arts Club Theatre's playwriting intensive, LEAP. I also had the pleasure of addressing this year's cohort on their first day.
May 2, 2016: Mexican Hooker #1, Carmen Aguirre's eagerly-awaited follow-up to Something Fierce, was already an internationally acclaimed bestseller a few weeks after its release. I got to introduce her at her Vancouver book launch. It was packed, of course. The people in the room included some of the Carmem's fellow Playwrights Theatre Centre Associates; her sister; and her first friend in Canada... as well as some people with personal connections to a central story in the book: the story of the infamous "Paper Bag Rapist". It was a moving night of reading... and, of course, salsa.
May 22, 2016: I Lost My Husband. My translation of Catherine Léger's J'ai perdu mon mari, commissioned by Ruby Slippers Theatre, received its first public reading as part of the Ta Gueule series in the rEvolver Festival at the Cultch (Vancouver, BC). My description: Evelyn loses her husband in a bar bet. And she's not too sure she wants him back. Fabulous cast; good turnout; and much, much laughter. And although Catherine couldn't make it from Montreal, she was well represented: her father happened to be visiting from Quebec!
Canada's only residency focused on the translation of plays is the Glassco Translation Residency in Tadoussac, east of Québec City on the St. Lawrence River. The family of the late Bill Glassco – founder of the Tarragon Theatre and a hugely influential figure – owns a lovely summer home there. He began the tradition (which the family has honoured) of turning it into an artist residency for a few weeks each year. Thanks to Playwrights' Workshop Montreal, I translated my first play here – Philippe Soldevila's Conte de la lune – under the watchful eye of Linda Gaboriau, my first translation mentor. Ten years and twelve plays later, I will be returning... this time to work with Olivier Sylvestre on his Governor-General's Award-nominated La Beauté du monde under the watchful eye of Bobby Theodore. (This translation, commissioned by Pi Theatre, will be shared with Vancouver audiences at a public reading in March 2017.)
The segment of the Playwrights Colony that Natasha Greenblatt and I were at Banff for is called "The Retreat". No readings, no actors, just a cabin to yourself for two weeks and one friendly non-judgmental visit from the Colony's director, the magical Brian Quirt. Plus as many of the Centre's activities - concerts, exhibits, readings - as you want to take in. Or not. And people taking care of all the cooking and cleaning and everything that takes time and energy away from your work... And artists from all over the world to break bread with. I made massive progress on my play Turbulence, and I hope to have something to show you all shortly.
There are 8 studio/cabins altogether in the Leighton Artists Colony at the Banff Centre, and each is named after the architect who designed it. My guy, Michael Evamy, was an Alberta star. He designed the Calgary International Airport. Everything here is angles: triangles, diamonds, even a sort of pyramid base. And absolute rivers of light.
I never used the desktop computer except in the evenings, to play a ridiculous but very comforting Youtube video of a crackling fireplace. Mr. Evamy designed my studio with a fireplace, but the Banff National Park bureaucracy overruled him, so I feel confident that the architect would approve.
In the background of the photo above, you can see my writing partners. I also had whiskeyjacks, ravens, squirrels, a pair of elk, and one woodpecker manically concussing himself against a nearby birch tree. Some days I felt like (a very old) Snow White. Hard to believe the rest of the Centre for the Arts is just a little bit over that ridge. In here, I felt like I was in an alpine Arcadia.
At the very end of my residency, I was deeply moved to learn that I was there as the recipient of the George Ryga Playwright Scholarship. George Ryga was, in many ways, the father of English-Canadian playwriting. In 1967, he took a prestigious, big-ass play commission – in Canada's rah-rah boosterish centennial year – and, with the brave, poetic, and stunning THE ECSTASY OF RITA JOE, turned his outraged spotlight on the travesty happening down the street from the theatre: First Nations women being tossed onto the colonial garbage-heap of society. Relevant much? He then followed up with CAPTIVES OF THE FACELESS DRUMMER, a sympathetic look at the FLQ: so controversial at the time that it got the wonderful David Gardiner booted from the AD's office at the Vancouver Playhouse. And Ryga was effectively blacklisted for years. This was a man whose courage, empathy, and sense of social justice knew no bounds. It's a lot to live up to.